Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

If it was proven to me that giving Spinetingler away for free online was having a serious impact on the readership of print magazines, should I pull the plug on Spinetingler?

It might be necessary to read my comment on the post below to Barbara to understand this question, but it is one I'm throwing open for the masses. You see, in debating used book sales (and let me be clear on something: I'm more interesting in the reasoning people put behind their position than anything else. I'm not saying this for people I know online, but for people I know in the "real" world, who buy at least one $3 coffee a day and then grumble about the cost of even a new paperback) I have an actual, practical reality to consider with what I've been doing the past few years.

This might not be true of all e-zines, because we do reviews and interviews as well as short stories, so we do come closer to what many print magazines for our genre offer, so I'm not meaning to put any other e-zine editors in the hot seat.

What do the readers say?

(While I have an opinion, I'm curious to see what others have to say first.)


John R said...

No, I don't think you should. Either the marketplace is big enough for all or it's not. Quality and marketability ultimately win out.

And if it's not big enough, being in print doesn't give you the automatic right to hold on to your piece of the pie at the expense of those doing it online. (Which is probably the biggest difference between zines and the new vs used book argument, where the used book market can't really exist without the new book market.)

To be honest, I think it is - or should be - big enough. So many people read the genre.

The older couple of mags are probably serving the same, slowly dwindling core audience (guesswork on my part, but I know that's what's happened with SF mags like Asimov's and the model would probably fit with AH/EQMM) who aren't likely to be turned aside by an online mag. And those who are would probably be part of the steady dwindle anyway for some other reason.

The newer print mags aren't so reliant on a pre-existing core, but more on their own efforts to find an audience (the Crimespree gang work their arses off on the con circuit, for instance) and are likely to be both more adaptable and also to be dealing with a newer readership who aren't just buying their mags as a matter of habit but who're getting them because they actively want to, in which case they should have room for more mags in their reading list so long as the quality continues to be good enough to sustain their interest.

Sandra Ruttan said...


Should I still hold out on my 2 cents until I see what others say?

The one critical word in my post is "proven". This is something it's impossible to prove. But in part, I raise the example as one that goes right back to the discussion about used book sales and profits: what about electronic book sales? Why don't people see the new medium as potentially threatening traditional book sales?

This comes at the same time that crimeficreader predicts the death of the book, not just the hardcover.

And there's a whole different debate to have about that, although I don't think that we'll see electronic readers surging in popularity any time soon. Too hard on the eyes, and for the same reason I don't think what's online is threatening what's in print at this point.

But would I feel guilty if I knew we were seriously cutting into the print business? Yes, absolutely.

Barbara said...

No. You are not putting out a free version of Crimespree or Mystery Scene. You're putting out something original. If I enjoy it, I might also be inclined to buy a copy of one of the other magazines when I come across it. I wouldn't drop a subscription because the other is available online. They aren't the same thing.

That said, with so much good free content out there on blogs, etc. - often written by the same people who write for print magazines - the future of the printed magazine will have to offer unique value. If they don't, people will stop buying them. But it won't be Spintetingler's fault.

I like what John says - and agree, the market is big enough. The common notion that people are reading less aren't true. It's just that more books are being published, so there's more choice, and it's easier to buy used copies than ever before. (If you could buy the same $3.00 latte for half the price, wouldn't you go for it?) It's not that books are too expensive, or that readers are too cheap, but that the old economic model of scarcity no longer works. There's an abundance of books and an abundance of readers. We just have to find a new way to foot the bill for producing the goods without depending on scarcity. I have no idea what that will look like, but I'm working on it, okay? :o)

The only kind of publishing where I think the proof is in - that free access is not replacing print, but is challenging it because it offers greater exposure and "shareability," which benefits both authors and readers - is not a good analogy because its economics are totally different. The Open Access movement for scholarly publications is really changing the landscape. Many large and highly profitable publishers have had to change their terms, allowing their authors to post copies of articles on the Internet - otherwise the authors won't publish with them, their stuff is cited less often, and the journal's prestige disappears. The National Institutes of Heath in the US may prevail in requiring published articles based on publicly funded medical research must be deposited and made available for free within a period of time (the publisher, in other words, can only have a limited exclusive); this was vetoed by the president last week but I'm crossing my fingers for an override. Even my republican senator supports it.

So in that scenario it looks as if open access means more readers and greater influence and the old way of doing things has to adjust or lose its prestige. If nobody's reading it, it has no value. BUT - the big but - those authors don't care about sales. They aren't paid! It's part of their job as scholars, and they're paid by institutions, through salaries and grants, not by sales of printed works, of which they get zero. The journals are edited by volunteers and peer review is done by scholars who aren't paid. If these scholars create an alternative platform, the authors will go there - provided it gives them exposure and has sufficient credibility to give them tenure and more grants. That doesn't work for commercial publishing because authors and editors have no other way of being paid except through sales of the work they put out. And given the only other model that seems to be gaining traction elsewhere in the entertainment realm is selling advertising, we're going to have to find a third way. 'Cause we're so saturated with advertising now it will lose all effectiveness.

By the way, thanks for not taking offense at my previous comment. I was afraid I'd come off as hostile, which I'm not (except to advertising and blaming readers for the publishing industry's woes, which you were not doing).

Sandra Ruttan said...

Barbara, I love lively debate. And sometimes, putting out something a bit controversial raises all sorts of interesting perspectives.

Of course, I can be a bit obtuse and say I don't drink latte, so the $3 latte for half the price argument doesn't quite work with me...

But exclusivity is an interesting point. I'll spend more on a hot chocolate at Tim Hortons because I want a donut, instead of going to McDonalds. (Actually, they could be the same price for all I know, but it wouldn't matter. I'd still go to Tim Hortons.) And I keep coming back to Steve's point, about dvds, wondering if people wouldn't pay more for all sorts of bells and whistles with a special version of a popular book? I mean, I would.

I think the main thing that frustrates me is, sure there's a problem with sales being spread over more items, and more competition from used book sales and places like paperbackswap. Okay, it's a reality authors now have to contend with. But I look at the movie business, the music business, and those guys don't like how things are going and they strike or lobby hard against governments to make legal changes to protect their interests.

The main thing that's sad as an author is, what's being done for us? Nada. So you hear horror story after horror story (and of course, they're all off the record, stuff you can't repeat online and shouldn't even know about) and you're left half in terror at how unforgiving the industry can be, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

I completely agree with the oversaturation with advertising, btw. It's probably why I have a low threshold with spam and telemarketing as well. But I don't know what the answer is either.

angie said...

Well, you can't prove that free ezines have an impact on print mags, so I'm not sure what that's about. Besides, Spinetingler has a different agenda. It's all about helping new(ish) writers get their shot, in addition to lots of interviews and reviews, so I don't see the conflict.

Magazines (whether for pay print or free online) are fab simply because they offer readers a chance to check out shorter work by authors that they may not shell out cash for otherwise. Print mags often have bits or "teasers" available for free online - I've bought more print mags because I've been able to sample what the mag is about than I would have w/o the freebie.

Sorry, guess I just don't see the conflict. I'm all in favor of MORE!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Angie, I don't really think there is a conflict, I think it's simplistic thinking to some degree. There may be a point in time in the future, when there are good electronic readers and people become accustomed to that, that it is an issue, but not now.

However, I think that all the paranoia in the business has resulted in something of a knee-jerk mentality and we don't really do thorough assessments of the business but sometimes look for scapegoats. I mean, I can argue both sides on used book sales. Some people would never buy your book new no matter what, so having them buy it used isn't costing you a sale. But what if they like the book and recommend it to someone who does buy it new?

You just never know. I still dislike Amazon selling used books right there, but it's really just something to bitch about. It would take a lot of mutual effort to make changes to that, and I don't see that happening.

Maybe there should be a rebate program for books, send in the bar code and get a special cd or something.

Megan said...

Oh noes, teh interweb!

If Spinetingler had a serious impact on the readership of print magazines, you'd have heard from Dell by now.

Austin Carr said...

Airplanes, radio, television, and the internet in general all have had serious impact on the readership of print magazines. Why pick on poor Spinetingler?